by Chuck Cohn
Remember your college days? Late nights spent studying, completing homework, and occasionally getting the chance to unwind with friends — these are common experiences for students, no matter how big or small their college town may be.
But the college experience has another universal truth: These towns can be great resources for finding affordable talent and a ripe consumer base that includes students, faculty, and staff. If you’re launching a startup and are in need of help, guidance, and a viable market, a college town can be the perfect place to establish connections.
Come for the Talent, Stay for the Facilities
The most obvious resource a college town has to offer is educated talent. With both notable faculty and promising students, you have easy access to motivated, intelligent people who can help build your business.
A college town is also a great place to receive immediate and useful feedback. You can test your product or service and receive data from a wide variety of people. Targeted demographic data can help pinpoint your marketing efforts so you can determine how to reach your audience, and college campuses are ideal testing grounds for this purpose. Additionally, you’ll benefit from a fresh infusion of new students each fall. A new audience and pool of talent can significantly help reenergize your company. Small business accelerators, startup weekends, and professors can be invaluable for helping you refine your business plan and locate resources for your specific needs.
Aside from expanding your pool of potential talent and testing your ideas, other benefits include:
As a fledgling business, you may not have a formal office space. Colleges and universities provide meeting facilities, workspaces, and even laboratories. If you don’t initially have the capital to purchase such a space, using a university’s offerings is a great temporary solution.
Many schools have designated startup facilities with related administrative resources to foster public-private partnerships.
Colleges are hubs for successful people from all walks of life, including donors and alumni who are often willing to invest in worthwhile projects or institutions. Building relationships with these potential investors or customers can help your business gain recognition — and associating your startup with the dear old alma mater can’t hurt.
Universities have dedicated communications and marketing professionals on staff to publicize the school’s latest success stories to thousands of graduates. Leverage this group to tell your brand’s story.
Making the Connection
If you’re an alum of the university, contacting your former professors and advisors is an easy way to grow your professional network. Even if your instructors weren’t experts in your startup’s field, they can likely open doors with colleagues who are.
If the school you’d like to partner with is not your alma mater, here are a few ways to approach connecting with it:
Ask professors for advice
Many will be happy to spare a few minutes just to say they helped a local business. This contact can be invaluable to your network because professors can often introduce you to potential student interns for your company or give you an opportunity to present your organization on campus.
Contact student groups
You can provide free food or information during student study breaks or campus-wide events to meet potential talent — and market your business at the same time.
Connect with the career center
Introduce your business to the center’s counselors and let them know you have opportunities available, including internships. Your company may get included on mailings to corporate contacts and receive invites to on-campus recruiting events.
Startups don’t just benefit from the colleges, but they add value as well. Your company could be a valuable employer of the university’s graduates. Jobs mean increased job placement rates, and schools are under great scrutiny to prove their degrees result in something tangible. Once you’ve established yourself, you could be invited to sit on the school’s business or technical council, where you’d be able to advise the school on what skills you — and other employers — seek in potential employees. You may also have the opportunity to teach as an adjunct instructor in your field of expertise, further enhancing your credentials as you share your knowledge and experiences with students and gain greater visibility on campus.
College towns offer your startup a wide variety of resources and talent, as well as an eclectic and fresh audience. By connecting with an institution’s professors, business organizations, and career center, you can build an incredibly strong network that will benefit your startup for years to come. In return, you’ll have the chance to add value by providing guidance to students who can learn from your experiences. This is a win-win relationship that can push both you and the college to greater heights.
zappowbang | Courtesy of author